Lessons in Leadership: 5 Insights from Shannon Latham

by Darcy Maulsby, Iowa Storyteller, Darcy Maulsby & Co

Shannon Latham ColorSuccess in life requires a backbone, not a wishbone. Just ask Shannon Latham, who was diagnosed with scoliosis (an extreme curvature of the spine) when she was in junior high.

“My mom will tell you one of the hardest days of her life was watching me put on my shoes after I was fitted into my back brace,” said Shannon, who grew up in Greene, Iowa. “The prosthetist told my mother I needed to learn to do things for myself. She watched with tears in her eyes as I tried to bend to grab my shoes off the floor.”

Shannon had to wear the back brace 23 hours a day for two years. She’ll never forget the day a guy in study hall thought he would be funny by pulling a chair out from under her as she sat down.

“I fell on the floor and didn’t know how to get up because I couldn’t bend at the waist,” said Shannon, who always tried to disguise the brace under her clothing. “I believe he was shocked senseless because he never offered me a hand up. Instead, I grabbed a table leg and pulled myself up.”

These experiences became defining moments in her life. “My parents never let me believe I was a victim, and for that I will be forever grateful.”

This instilled a spirit of strength in Shannon. When she enrolled in the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University in 1989, the ratio of males to females was 5 to 1.

“I believe one of the main reasons I’ve succeed in agriculture is because I haven’t made an issue out of my gender,” Shannon said. “I treat all people with respect. I study hard and work harder. I take detours where others stop at roadblocks.”

That kind of backbone defines the American spirit, which Shannon embraces through:

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1. A strong work ethic. From the time she was old enough to walk, Shannon helped her parents feed livestock.

“I loved everything about living on our small farm and was passionate about my 4-H sheep project.” She worked hard to grow the size and quality of her family’s purebred, registered Suffolk flock.” She tracked expenses like feed and revenue from sheep sold. She also had to come up with a farm name and promote it.

This marketing mindset inspired her commitment to complete her MBA with an emphasis in marketing from the University of Iowa. It also influences her role as vice president at Latham Hi-Tech Seeds. Shannon has written unique content weekly through “The Field Position” blog from 2008 through today.

2. Small-business savvy. Shannon’s parents were small-business owners who taught her the value of a dollar.

“My mom took me to the bank when I was 10 years old and helped me open a checking account that was solely for buying and selling sheep,” Shannon said. “I wasn’t allowed to spend what I didn’t have.” When Shannon returned to North Iowa after her first full-time jobs in the Des Moines area, she applied her business skills in a whole new way.

“When my husband, John, decided to start his own hybrid seed corn company in our garage, it wasn’t long before I was spending half my time helping market Latham® brand corn.” As the demands of this work grew, Shannon knew something had to change. “I told John, ‘I love you, but I can’t live on love alone.” John agreed to make Shannon an equal partner in his corn company. Today, Latham Hi-Tech Seeds market corn, soybeans, alfalfa and cover crops across seven Upper Midwest states.

3. Assertiveness. Shannon landed her first full-time as director of legislative affairs for the Agribusiness Association of Iowa.

“I reported to Dan Frieberg, who’d say, ‘We didn’t hire you to take a seat at the table. We hired you to be a voice for our members’.” As a 21-year-old lobbyist, Shannon needed to talk to a state senator about an unintended consequence of a bill he had sponsored.

“I offered an amendment to solve the problem,” she recalled. “He got in my face and said, ‘You tell your boss not to send a little girl to do a man’s job.” I looked at him and calmly responded, ‘In all due respect, Senator, my boss sent me to do this job because he knows I’m competent and capable’.”

Latham family 20204. Leadership. The summer after Shannon’s junior year of high school, the 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus trip proved to be a life-changing experience.

“We had the opportunity to meet with Iowa’s congressional delegation. We also listened to an American Farm Bureau lobbyist speak, and I was intrigued by the political process.”

In 2020, Shannon was elected to represent District 54 in the Iowa House of Representatives. She serves as the vice chair of Appropriations Committee. She also serves the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees, as well as the Economic Development Budget Subcommittee.

Her leadership in agriculture has earned her many awards, including the Iowa Soybean Association’s Advocate for Agriculture, inclusion in the 2016 FarmHer Hall of Fame, and ISU’s Greenlee 2020 Professional Achievement Award. Of all the titles she’s held, however, “mom” is her favorite. She shares her favorite Henry David Thoreau quotes with her two children, including, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

5. Giving back. In addition to serving in the Iowa Legislature, Shannon serves on her church council. She was a Girl Scout leader for 12 years and served as the inaugural chair of the Communications Committee for the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). She continues to serve on the ASTA Communications Committee. She is a former member of the Seed Science Foundation board, the Iowa 4-H Foundation and the Franklin County 4-H Foundation. She thinks back to Melva Berkland, who was her supervisor during an internship with ISU Extension Communications for 4-H.

“Melva taught me to view challenges as opportunities, and that perspective has made a world of difference,” said Shannon, who believes a positive outlook is essential to leadership. “Many of life’s greatest lessons are learned – and life’s greatest blessings can be found – on the road less traveled.”

When she isn’t serving her state or her community, Shannon enjoys traveling around the state to enjoy one of Iowa’s Best Burgers or spending time in the kitchen creating a meal her family will enjoy around the table. Today she is sharing with us one of her go-to meals when company is coming. She says Pork Roast with Raspberry Sauce is a fix-it-and-forget type of meal that looks impressive.

Pork Roast with Raspberry Sauce

Ingredients

  • 3-pound boneless pork roast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 12 ounces of frozen unsweetened raspberries (thawed)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Instructions

Directions for Pork

  1. Grease a six-quart crockpot with cooking spray.
  2. Place roast in crockpot; pat tops and side of roast with salt, sage and pepper.
  3. Pour about 1 cup of water or chicken broth around the bottom of the roast.
  4. Cook on low for nine hours or so and the roast pulls apart easily with a fork.
  5. Set raspberries in refrigerator to thaw.

Directions for Raspberry Sauce

When mealtime draws near, prepare the raspberry sauce. That way you can serve it warm.

  1. In a large saucepan, combine: sugar, cornstarch, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.
  2. Stir in the vinegar, reserved raspberry juice and raspberries.
  3. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat; add lemon juice and butter. Stir until butter is melted.
  5. Let pork stand for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with the raspberry sauce.

Notes

This recipe is easy enough for a weeknight but fancy enough for company! I like to serve it with cheesy hash brown casserole and steamed green beans.

COOK’S TIP: We always have leftover raspberry sauce, and it’s too got not to save! You can transfer the cooled raspberry sauce into a freezer-safe container. Thaw the sauce in refrigerator overnight. Heat sauce in a saucepan over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and serve. This sauce is delicious served over grilled pork chops or grilled, boneless chicken breasts.